NL VIII: “Hunger and Love”

Index to this series


Collingwood recognizes the two kinds of appetites named in the title of the chapter.

  1. Hunger is wanting to be something, namely strong, where evidently this word strong is used quite generally. Hunger itself offers no bound to the strength it hungers for (¶8. 15); hence Collingwood suggests that what one hungers for is to be a god (¶8. 26).

    It seems to me then that if we are talking about hunger in the usual sense, referring to food, what we hunger for is not to be full, that is, to have eaten, but to be eating. Likewise lust, hunger for sex (¶8. 33), should be hunger to be engaged in sex, not to have finished it. One might quote from Plato’s Gorgias here (I use the Loeb edition, with translation by W. R. M. Lamb):


    … Do I, with this story of mine, induce you at all to concede that the orderly life is better than the licentious, or do I fail?


    You fail, Socrates. For that man who has taken his fill can have no pleasure any more; in fact it is what I have just now called living like a stone, when one has filled up and no longer feels any joy or pain. But a pleasant life consists rather in the largest possible amount of inflow (494a–b).

    Socrates will induce Callicles to admit that hunger itself is painful, although eating when hungry is pleasant.


    Then do you perceive the conclusion,—that you say one enjoys oneself, though in pain at the same moment, when you say one drinks when one is thirsty? Or does this not occur at once, at the same place and time—in either soul or body, as you please? For I fancy it makes no difference. Is this so or not?


    It is.


    But further, you say it is impossible to be badly off, or to fare ill, at the same time as one is faring well.


    Yes, I do.


    But to enjoy oneself when feeling pain you have admitted to be possible.




    Hence enjoyment is not faring well, nor is feeling pain faring ill, so that the pleasant is found to be different from the good.


    I cannot follow these subtleties of yours, Socrates (496e–7a).

    Collingwood himself does not seem to be concerned with these matters. His purpose is not to moralize like Socrates, but just to describe what it is to be human. He thus begins the next chapter, Retrospect:

    9. 1. The account of man as mind given in this first Part, the account of community to follow it in the second, and the account of a civilized community to be given in the third, are all constructed on what Locke called the ‘historical plain method”.

    9. 11. The essence of this method is concentration upon facts. ‘Facts’ is a name for what history is about: facta, gesta, things done, πεπραγμένα, deeds.

    But it is of significance that feelings as such do not contradict one another, so that one can feel pain and pleasure at the same time. This is why criteriological sciences like logic and ethics cannot be reduced to psychology, as Collingwood argues here and there in his œuvre.

  2. Love is wanting to have something: a companion, to whom Collingwood refers as a not-self (¶8. 16).

    Having—possession—is an abstraction from loving (¶8. 17). In commenting on the previous chapter, I suggested that appetite was the origin of memory. Now Collingwood is suggesting that the specific kind of appetite called love is the origin of ownership (though he does not use that word here).

    In a high-school essay on Othello, as I vaguely recall, I criticized the title character for treating Desdemona as a possession. The teacher thought my argument simplistic. He said Desdemona was Othello’s treasure. A treasure is a kind of possession, I suppose, but a special kind.

    In any case, the language of love is full of possession. Popular songs come to mind:

    • I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day; … talkin’ ’bout my girl.

    • You belong to me.

    • When you were mine …

    But then the last lyric leads to the punch line, I love you more than I did when you were mine.

    The distinction between self and not-self—and hence, apparently, between possessor and possession—is an abstraction from loving. Neither self nor not-self is ever immediately given as a first-order object of consciousness (¶8. 19).


Hence, for example, You are not necessarily conscious of the hunger as your own (¶8. 23).

Pace Rudolf Otto and the Ancients (¶8. 27), not only is hunger a hunger to be a god, but hunger, and not fear, is the origin of the notion of a god in the first place. I don’t know how important Collingwood’s dispute is with Otto and the Ancients. It would seem to me that fear could be considered as a kind of hunger: a hunger for security.

Collingwood will treat fear in Chapter X as a kind of passion, which is the power of the not-self (¶10. 18). Then hunger is prior to fear, because hunger does not involve a not-self. But it seems to me that some fear may arise as a vague unpleasant feeling, just as hunger does.


Love is not lust (which as noted above is a hunger), and no light is thrown on the nature of love by showing that it often contains an element of lust and that many people are ashamed or unconscious of this element; even when it is true (¶8. 34).

Hunger is hunger for an ideomorphic god; love is love for a heteromorphic god (¶8. 35). Thus to love is to worship (¶8. 36).

Love of a child, a cat, a dog, a tree—it is the religion of satisfied love, or love that hopes to be satisfied (¶8. 37).

But there is also a religion of unsatisfied love (¶8. 38), namely Christianity, albeit not the comfortable pseudo-Christianity of sentimentalists (¶8. 39).


Love is wrongly called a passion, and specifically a response to the power of beauty. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (¶8. 43); things are beautiful because we love them, not the other way around.


Love arises from hunger when the hungry person gives up trying to be omnipotent. It appears that one cannot be a god; so one seeks one’s gods elsewhere. But one does not otherwise know what one is seeking: What kind of not-self will satisfy is a question to which no answer can be given a priori (¶8. 57). This is why it would seem foolish to seek a mate who meets a list of criteria: there is no telling in advance what kind of person one will love. My roommates in Washington could not believe me when I came back from Toronto having fallen in love with somebody who smoked, hated exercise, and stayed out late in bars. I would not have believed she would be another mathematician.

7 Trackbacks

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